Frank Wolf, House’s Top NASA Appropriator, Retiring in 2015

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the top NASA appropriator in the U.S. House of Representatives and a fierce China critic who banned joint space endeavors between that nation and the United States, will leave Congress when his current term expires in January 2015.

Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee, made the announcement in a Dec. 17 press release in which the representative of Virginia’s 10th District and dean of the state’s House delegation announced he would not seek re-election next year. The veteran lawmaker will have spent 34 years on the Hill by the time he retires, including 10 nonconsecutive years as chairman of the appropriations panel that controls NASA’s budget.

“As a follower of Jesus, I am called to work for justice and reconciliation, and to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves,” Wolf said in a written statement. “I plan to focus my future work on human rights and religious freedom — both domestic and international — as well as matters of the culture and the American family.”

Assuming Republicans maintain control of the House after U.S. elections next November, Wolf’s successor would be appointed in closed-door meetings by the leaders of the House Republican Conference before the 114th Congress gavels in on Jan. 3, 2015. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) has the most seniority on the subcommittee after Wolf.

In Congress, Wolf was generally supportive of NASA, except when it came to cooperating with the Chinese government and Chinese corporations. Wolf-penned provisions in appropriations bills dating back to 2011 have forbidden NASA from spending appropriated funds on bilateral arrangements with China or Chinese companies, and from hosting Chinese officials or industry heads at NASA facilities.

In the wake of China’s successful landing Dec. 14 of a probe on the  lunar surface, Wolf once again sounded alarms about the progress of the Chinese space program. In a Dec. 19 letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, Wolf urged Obama to call off a proposed NASA mission to capture an asteroid and focus instead on lunar exploration with existing U.S. space collaborators.

In a separate letter to U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper dated Dec. 18, Wolf asked which of the technologies demonstrated in the Chang’e 3 lunar landing mission could have implications for China’s counter-space and missile programs. The letter to Clapper was also signed by Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces.

Wolf also has been a sharp critic of Obama’s decision to cancel the Constellation Moon exploration program, and voted for a Senate-authored NASA authorization bill that ordered NASA to build the Space Launch System and Orion capsule using contracts and hardware left over from the Constellation and space shuttle programs.

An avowed skeptic of NASA’s plan to outsource crew and cargo transportation to and from the international space station, Wolf once considered ordering the agency to limit its selection of astronaut taxi services to just one company. NASA has long expressed a desire to have at least two such services at its disposal.

Although that order never came, Wolf’s continuing wariness showed in a NASA spending bill that cleared the House Appropriations Committee this past summer. The bill contained $500 million for the Commercial Crew Program, considerably less than the $821 million annual budget the White House wants.